Monday, September 12, 2011

Speedway vs. Ritter Homily

Sorry for the lack of posting recently - but I think when you read below you'll see where my heart has been.

Every Friday, before the football game, the team and I celebrate Mass right after school. I normally keep those homilies "in house" but this one, for the sake of our community and a need for a LOT of healing, I felt needed to be shared.

First the background: On Thursday, some of our players found on the internet a video that a group of Speedway's players (most of them starters) had put together in their Speedway jerseys on Speedway's campus. The video is a freestyle rap video, the highlights of which note how these "men" from Speedway are going to do things to some of the girls in our school (sisters of some of our players). The stuff mentioned is not just X-rated, it is XXX-rated, offensive and horrendous to the extreme, and worse than any uncensored rap song ever created.

Compounding the hurt and anger over the incident, Speedway officials were made aware of the video and were shown the video on Friday morning - 36 hours before kickoff on Saturday night.

36 hours later - the Speedway players played in the game.

It is one thing for kids to screw up - we have our own suspensions at Ritter - the most hurtful thing for the Ritter community was the fact that nothing was done promptly to address the issue.

I think there are a lot of fine people working in public schools, but for me this incident has only heightened my belief in the importance of Catholic schools. Had the incident happened at Ritter, I can promise you, our kids would have been dragged off of the practice field on Friday, meetings would have been held, all night long if necessary, and I can guarantee you the meetings being held would have been "are these kids allowed to return to school" not "should they be able to play tomorrow?" I don't care how big one's school is, I don't care what other problems an administrator has to consider, I know due process has to be followed, but the pain on our end was amplified EXPONENTIALLY to see these young men taking the field against our team 36 hours later.

I share this so as to provide a little context for my homily. Anger and tension continues to be palpable in our community four days later as options for protecting and defending the dignity of our girls who were so ruthlessly slandered and sexually harassed continue to be explored. Although you may not be involved in our community at Ritter, I think the homily raises some important questions about anger and hurt that are important for ALL Catholics to think about. The teaching of our Church in this area is grossly misunderstood. Below is the text version of what I delivered to our team during our pregame Mass on Saturday afternoon.

A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil.”

When I was a football coach at Chatard, we had a tradition called “Senior Scripture” where on Thursday nights after practice, a senior would share his favorite Bible passage and offer a short reflection.

One night, instead of offering a selection from Scripture, one of our seniors shared with us a quote from Yoda from the Star Wars movies – “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, Anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”

I’m sure he was a nice guy and I hope the young man is doing well today – but this quote is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. These are the words of a puppet in a movie and they simply aren’t true. Fear doesn’t always lead to anger and anger doesn’t always lead to hate.

We think this way, though! We walk around telling ourselves “I can’t be angry, I’m a nice, polite, American, and I don’t get angry”

This mindset has been considered a heresy from the very beginning of the Church and the heresy is called Stoicism. Stoicism teaches that the truly good people are the ones who don’t have emotions in the first place. Stoicism says that only bad people experience emotions like anger and that if we want to truly be perfect we have to not experience those emotions in the first place.

The reason it is considered a heresy is because it is a lie about what it means to be a human person. I can’t WILL AWAY emotions; I can’t decide “You know what, I’m not going to have emotions anymore” If we do we will explode because emotions aren’t meant to be suppressed. Those who are sexually pure are not those who don’t experience attraction – they are the people who experience attraction but handle it honorably. In a similar way, certain things are WRONG, and we experience anger in witnessing them – we are not UNHEALTHY for experiencing anger – it is only UNHEALTHY to pretend the anger isn’t there.

We often have this image of saints and Mary and Jesus sort of flittering about with their heads in the sky ditzily saying “Oh, I’m a saint, I don’t have emotions because I’m holy” – that’s the problem with Stoicism – it gets us to thinking that it is impossible for us to be a saint.

A lot of people tell themselves – “well, I’ve experienced sexual attraction – this is already a sin, so I mine as well act on it” or “well, I want to go smash someone’s face in for what they said about my sister – and now I’ve already sinned so I mine as well go act on it – I wish I could be a good person and not have these thoughts.”

That is why the Yoda quote is so dumb and misleading and false.

A movie that gets it right is the Passion of the Christ. One of my favorite scenes from the film is one in which Mary, having seen her Son beaten to a bloody pulp, and now being raised up on the cross, grabs two handfuls of rocks in anger – a sign of someone ready to pick up a sword or start punching – and she squeezes the rocks tight, but then lets them fall from her hands instead of throwing them.

THAT is what a saint does – she experiences anger, but doesn’t give in to the temptation to act on it in a violent and sinful way.

You are angry, I am angry, we’re all angry about what happened – some young men from the school we play tonight put out there for the world to see some of the must vulgar stuff about our sisters… our daughters… and our friends

You are not wrong for being angry – I want you to acknowledge it and admit it and look at it.

In putting this video on Youtube for all to see, I can only guess that part of their twisted and disgusting mindset was a hope to get us to act on our anger wrongly

I think it is interesting that this happens on the very weekend we remember 9/11 – an attempt by some people to get our country to drop to their inhumane level and a very violent attempt also to split and divide our country

But what happened on 9/11… Our country came together and was stronger than ever before. With this incident as well – it is an opportunity to draw closer together, circle the wagons, and draw closer as a family.

Our response to our anger is to not be mad at ourselves for experiencing it but to bring our anger here, and to pray for our enemies. To the extent that we can’t forgive them completely yet – we also pray for the strength that we are going to need to not let our anger boil over into something that WOULD become sinful.

You play a naturally violent game tonight against people who have lost their minds – whose fruit is on display for the world to see – against men whose community has decided to look the other way for now in the face of all of this, and you will be heavily tempted, in the heat of such a game, to let your anger take over you completely.

Remember, you have every right to be angry – but what are you going to do with it?

Jesus says in the Gospel today - “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil

What will you “produce” tonight? Good or evil?

In my three years at Ritter I’ve not asked for anything that I can think of, but I ask something of you today. I ask that you say not one word to your opponent. No taunting, no fighting, no cheap shots, no personal fouls. I ask that you answer in the only way you should.

I end with this. In 8th grade, Sr. Theresa Clare had us memorize poems. I only remember one line from one poem – and the poem is titled “IF” by Rudyard Kipling. It is a poem with words of advice from a father to a son. He provides a series of “if you do this….if you do this…if you do this…” and he ends with “you’ll be a man my son.”

The line I’ve always remembered is this. “IF you can keep your head while those about you are losing theirs… you will be a man my son.”

Those about us are losing their heads. That was on display for the world to see. What will you do? Will you lose your head too? Will you produce evil? Or will you, while allowing yourself to be angry, still keep your head and produce something good tonight?

A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil.

We pray for the strength to produce good in the face of evil.


  1. What a terrific homily and profound message, Fr. Hollowell. You are spot on. Our Lord's example in the account of Him cleansing the Temple should be a template for us. There is no sin in righteous anger, the question is, what do we do with it. I will pray for your school community who has had to deal with such insulting and ridiculous actions, with seemingly no repercussions. Way to lead, Father. God bless you, and your ministry.

  2. As a follow up - our team lost to Speedway by three points when they kicked a field goal as time expired. The MVP of the game was one of the "singers" from the video.

    From everything I saw on the sideline, despite a couple of tauntings from the opponent, our guys kept their cool, played with tremendous class, had no personal fouls, and truly I've never been more proud of a group of men before. As I told them after the game - in my time at Ritter this was, by far, our finest hour.

    After everybody showered up, I was able to stand with some of our coaches and players who were most affected by the "song". Slowly, because of the layout of Lucas Oil Stadium, Speedway made its way past us towards their bus. As the players who starred in the video passed by over the course of a few minutes, not one of them said anything to us and we said nothing back to them. One of their coaches showed a lot of class and apologized to some of our guys affected - the rest of the coaching staff from Speedway said nothing. Through it all, our guys again held their tongues and took the road less traveled.

  3. While we can't will away emotions per the ideas of Stoicism. We can minimize the effect of emotions on our mind, body and soul, by prayer, more specifically meditative prayer. Such as the meditative prayers of the Desert Fathers, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The book "The Cloud of Unknowing" is a great starter, but you have to be ready to receive it, or you will fail at it.

  4. Thank you for sharing your message with all of us in the Catholic community. While many may have watched the filth posted by some, just as many are watching the maturity and class of the Ritter community's response. Thank you Father Hollowell for reminding us all about how Jesus calls us to act, and for your clarity about anger, especially during times when it feels confusing. I will pray for the boys who may not know God, who may not have the privilege of being part of a faith filled community, who likely know more hatred than love. I will pray for the continued strength of your players as they heal from this pain. Tonight, I will share their story with my three sons who are football players on CYO teams. Please remind your players that because of the high school uniform they wear they are "heros" to so many little ones who are watching closely how they act. Please extend my sincere thank you to them for being men who are outstanding Christian role models, and for being men who seek to do God's will. You must be so proud of your team. May God continue to bless all of you.